The best way to read Clapton: The Autobiography is to start with the index, and scan through looking for the grabbier topics. Nine pages about The Beatles? Skip straight to them, and learn how Eric Clapton went from detesting their pop conformity to dropping acid with George Harrison and soloing on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." What the hell could Clapton possibly have to say about John Huston? It's all there on page 167, where he writes about doing a comedy skit with Burgess Meredith and Shirley MacLaine for a charity show that Huston also took part in. For such a reserved man, Clapton has worked alongside a lot of famous people, and paging through the index of his autobiography generates a buzz of excitement and access that reading the actual book doesn't provide.

The problem with Clapton is that it reads like an index, with the legendary guitarist skipping from topic to topic without giving any of them his full attention. Eschewing the "as told to" approach, Clapton relates his own story in his own words, in a series of choppy chapters that have him casually mentioning paying for his first girlfriend's abortion in one paragraph, then talking about how much he loves Big Bill Broonzy in the next. There's very little flow to the prose, and Clapton often talks about people and troubles he's known without getting into any real specifics. He'll mention that John Huston's anecdotes were "spellbinding," for example, but won't share any of what Huston actually said.


So forget about Clapton as a work of literature, and treat it more as a primary source. Because in fits and starts, the book has value, especially when Clapton explains his connection to Delta blues and other traditional folk music. As disjointed as Clapton is, it has an emotional arc, even though that arc has more to do with the British music scene in general than with Clapton in particular. Before falling into the pits of heroin abuse and personal tragedy, Clapton was like a lot of his future rock-star contemporaries: just a kid who loved music, and loved getting together with like-minded souls in London's hipper record stores and basement flats. For more information, see pages 40 to 42.